Songfactor's Choice: Musical Power Couples

Over in our Songfactor's Choice Forum, we had a vote for our favorite musical power couples.

While it's always fun to look at the romance behind the scenes of our favorite bands and performers, making this list wasn't as easy as you might think. After all, what is a musical power couple anyhow? Is it when two significant others make significant music together? Or does the actual coupling supersede their musical output? We came up with criteria akin to the Stableford Scoring System, taking into account the merits of each individual, what they accomplished as a couple and the health and longevity of their relationship.

By our logic, Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson missed the cut musically, while Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston missed the ball because of their torrid relationship. John and Yoko have the cred to place high on the list for sheer influence, but their musically lopsided pairing didn't make it. Plenty of great nominees didn't make the final cut - feel free to let us know your favorites in the comments.
1: Stevie Nicks - Lindsey Buckingham

Stevie and Lindsey were a package deal, joining Fleetwood Mac as a couple in 1974. Along with over 100 million albums sold, the band became the template for Behind the Music, with plot lines that could rival the best soap operas.

As the band recorded their wildly successful Rumours album, John and Christie McVie were going through the first stages of a tumultuous divorce, and Mick was being cuckolded by his wife; but it was Stevie and Lindsey's relationship that always seemed to be both the most intimate and the most torturous. Who out there can hear Stevie sing the Buckingham-penned "Go Your Own Way" and not be moved, as Stevie sings the thoughts that Lindsey couldn't express in spoken words? It's even more profound when we learn Buckingham and Nicks were high school sweethearts, having first met when Stevie saw him at a party performing "California Dreamin'." She joined him at the chorus and the rest is history.

Sadly, the two wouldn't last. Nicks dated Don Henley, J.D. Souther and her married bandmate Mick Fleetwood. If this were a Kate Hudson movie, she and Lindsey would have overcome their differences and realized they were right for each other all along, but real life is very different. When the band reunited in 1997, the couple performed "Landslide" on their tour, often with tears in their eyes.

2: Gerry Goffin - Carole King

Her Tapestry album spent six years on the charts, but Carole King's other claim to fame is the astonishing amount of songs that she and partner Gerry Goffin penned when they were a songwriting team with Aldon Music. And in addition to his work with King, Goffin has written songs for Gladys Knight, Rod Stewart, Anne Murray, and Whitney Houston. But his songs with Carole produced pop standards like "The Loco-Motion" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."

Carole's path to solo success came at the cost of her relationship with Gerry - and the split itself serves as a bitter slice of irony pizza in the cafeteria of their artistic output. For Carole found she could not love Goffin "tomorrow" if tomorrow involved dealing with his ever-increasing bouts of schizoaffective disorder. Goffin began experimenting heavily with acid (this was the mid '60s, after all), which further helped to imbalance an already shaky mental state. Carole wanted the '60s experience - the free love, the revolutionary zeal - but she didn't want to experience it with a madman. Much to the horror of the big stars covering their songs, the two split up in 1968 and so did their songwriting partnership.

In 1990, the duo was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a nod to Goffin's considerable contributions. So even though they didn't work out as a romantic couple, we'll always keep them together in our heads. Looks like we get to have our cake and eat it too, while they chew the cold scraps of the irony pizza leftovers.

3: Johnny Cash - June Carter Cash

We could have voted Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as another solid country-music couple: their bond of love grows stronger every day, and Tim is basically keeping Faith in the public eye by letting her do a duet with him every time he releases a multiplatinum album. That's a loving husband right there. But while Faith and Tim are the perfect couple for a chat with Oprah, June literally saved Johnny's life by pulling him from the abyss of drugs. They get points for drama.

Johnny and June had the kind of chaos and tension that always marks a relationship of two people deeply and hopelessly in love. The events in the movie Walk the Line were a mere fragment of their tumultuous relationship. Johnny didn't just automatically clean up in 1968. He continued to battle addiction, not only to amphetamines but also to painkillers. And June stood by him every step of the way. She held his hand and nursed him back to health when an ostrich clawed open his stomach (Yes, you read that right. Cash kept one on his ranch - the attack happened in 1983). Few wives can lay claim to that much devotion.

June, of course, comes from the most influential family in country music, if not music history. The Carter Family was "hillbilly music" before "country music" was even a term. Mother Maybelle was once the sexy, guitar-scratching virtuoso whose experimentation with alternate chords and picking technique preceded the work of other influential pickers like Robert Johnson and Jimmie Rodgers. And we all know that Johnny would go on to influence musicians of all genres with his soul-baring honesty and biting courage in the face of authority and adversity…and ostrich.

4: Paul McCartney - Linda McCartney

Linda was Paul's first wife. The two met when Linda, who was one of the foremost music photographers of the era, as well as the first woman to have a photograph on the cover of Rolling Stone, covered the launch party for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. They had seen one another at a club a few days previous, but this was their first real encounter. Something must have clicked then because when John and Paul visited New York the next year, Paul and Linda made a point to see one another again. Within another year they were married, all while Paul and the Beatles were moving toward a breakup.

Of course, it was clear that the group was already disbanding and following their own pursuits. The White Album was one of the earliest indicators of wildly different artistic visions, and the fact that Paul was already hard at work on his solo album during some of the final Beatles sessions made it clear things were already a go. Through it all, Linda helped Paul navigate the waters that come with breaking up the biggest band of all time. She was there as a supporter, not as an instigator (an insult often lobbed at Lennon's flame, Yoko Ono), all the while making sure to stand by Paul without trying to influence him one way or another.

Paul taught Linda how to play the organ so the two could do the album Ram together. Her biggest public exposure came with the vocals she would add to Wings, one of the biggest bands in the '70s, but her musical contributions were usually buried in the mix and subject to the criticism that comes with lofty expectations. Linda's real contribution wasn't so much musical as it was helping Paul find his voice as a solo artist and with a new band.

She also helped him gain a newfound appreciation for the world around him. Her views on animal rights, vegetarianism and environmentalism helped shape Paul's ethical compass. And he wasn't the only one: being the wife of a Beatle gives your voice a megaphone, and Linda made great strides toward animal rights awareness in that respect.

When she succumbed to liver cancer in 1998, Paul was just one of many who was heartbroken. But he knew that her influence and her strength would outlive the mortal shell she was given when she graced the Earth with her presence. He told well-wishers and mourners that the best thing they could do to help was to donate to breast cancer research groups that didn't test on animals or, even better, to "go veggie."

So no matter how you feel about Wings, there are plenty of people who won't eat em because of Paul and Linda, and that there is an accomplishment in and of itself.

5: Paul Kantner - Grace Slick

Jefferson Airplane was one of the most popular bands in the world around 1967. Opening the floodgates of acid rock and psychedelia, the group was fronted by one of the coolest women ever to sing rock and roll: Grace Slick.

But it wasn't just Grace Slick that made Jefferson Airplane, and later Starship, such a powerful force. Paul Kantner, the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter behind the band's biggest hits, was easily as integral to the group's success. Grace wasn't a member from the very outset, but the group was fully realized when she became a permanent fixture, and they almost immediately became a powerful symbol of the hippie movement. They were featured in Newsweek, and footage of the band made many a news segment about the counterculture revolution in San Francisco.

That alone gives them major points for their influence on pop culture. But through all this, Grace and Paul became a romantic item. The steamy passion they inspired in one another helped further the band's musical exploration. Grace was with Paul for the best part of her professional life: 1969-75. At the time, they were known in the press as the "psychedelic John and Yoko." Grace, however, was the kind of woman who just couldn't be contained. Paul must have understood this deep in his heart; he pined for her when she was involved with the group's drummer. As their marriage began to bore her, she responded by leaving Paul for a roadie (yes, that's right, a roadie) of Jefferson Starship. As heartbreaking as it must have been, Paul stayed on with the group, and they continued to release albums. But as time went on, it was clear that the Starship had sailed, and the band's best days were behind them. One wonders if the reason might not have been the breaking asunder of Grace and Paul.

6: James Taylor - Carly Simon

This coupling earns major points for its musical productivity, but the personal story behind the professional relationship isn't as rosy; in fact, it very nearly borders on Wuthering Heights territory, so grab your Bronte books and Kate Bush albums and let's dive in.

On many of James Taylor's albums of the mid '70s, Carly Simon provides backing vocals. Their vocal combination borders on Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris territory; in other words, it's quite great. So that right there gives the kids some points. The fact that Carly is part of some of James' most lauded work is enough of an accomplishment, but it's their duet of "Mockingbird," recorded in 1974, that continues to be a gigantic landmark in each of their careers. You know "Mockingbird." It's the one parodied on Dumb and Dumber. It's an up-tempo song of the classic lullaby. And for some inexplicable reason it continues to be popular at karaoke, weddings and anywhere you might find a happy couple. They were indeed a happy couple during this time. It didn't last long, however, and soon stories of James avoiding Carly and their kids, as well as torrid tales of Carly cheating on James, began to surface.

You're probably not surprised that Carly's biggest hit was "You're So Vain," and at the time of the recording (1972) she was already in a relationship with James. Of course, there's been plenty of speculation on who the song might have been about. Many people suspected it was about Mick Jagger, and he sang backup on it, making it a delightful irony if it were indeed true, but these days Mick is far down on the line of possible paramours. Either way, there was gigantic speculation on James' part that Mick and Carly carried on an affair. Mick's wife at the time, Bianca, even called James and told him that she also suspected infidelity between the two. For years, Carly told James she'd never been with Mick, but the book More Room in a Broken Heart told a different story. Written about Carly by Stephen Davis, and backed up by the New York Daily News, it claimed she did indeed cheat on James. And the worst bit is that most people close to the couple insist Mick wasn't the only one on the side.

James and Carly have a couple of kids from their marriage: Sarah and Ben. Both are musicians, and both have been pretty successful in their own right. Sarah has earned plenty of accolades for her lyrical wordsmithery and also for her inspiring dedication to landmine reform. Ben, for his part, is also quite talented, and his solo work has featured many members of his immediate family as well as performers like Kevin Bacon, who also produced one of Ben's albums.

The couple split up in 1981 and, two years later, their divorce was finalized.

7: Bruce Springsteen - Patti Scialfa

First thing's first: Patti and Bruce get bonus points right off the rip for still being together, which is something that can be said for only a few of the shining pillars of romantic entanglement on this list. But as we'll see, their professional relationship was and is just as fruitful.

Long before there was Jersey Shore and all its lovable, endearing characters, there was the other Jersey Shore - the music scene that made gigantic strides in pop music from the early '70s to the mid '80s. Springsteen is naturally associated with it, but in truth there were many great Jersey musicians changing the landscape of pop culture at the time, like Bon Jovi, George Thorogood and Sonny Kenn. If you watch Jersey Shore, please let us know which one of those three would be "The Situation." It's imperative that we know.

This is the landscape where Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen met. And through the years, there were nods to his love for her. During those days, Springsteen covered a couple of Tom Waits' songs and "Jersey Girl," a great performance for both, was dedicated on Bruce's part to Patti. But Bruce, always one to pen a classic himself, dedicated his own "Red Headed Woman" to her, admitting wholeheartedly that the song is an ode to her.

Scialfa has done plenty of solo work, but in many of her cuts there's still the E Street element - literally. Bruce and the rest of the band have been regularly featured as backing performers on her solo albums, and virtually all have received great reviews. Between their very fruitful working relationship and their longstanding togetherness, it's easy to see why Patti and Bruce make the list.

8: Jack White - Meg White

This is one of the more interesting couples on this list, to be sure. Both Jack and Meg are known for their eccentricities, so it only makes sense that they weren't your typical husband and wife duo. And, in truth, they really weren't together as an item for most of their professional career. Still, the time in which they were hitched was interesting to say the least.

Case in point: Jack's original last name was Gillis, and he earned his new surname when he married Meg, taking her last name in a delightful subversion of the norm. Even before they attained mainstream fame, Jack and Meg would often lie to the public and fans and say they were not husband and wife, but brother and sister (believable, because they look alike).

They made great music together despite being divorced for the vast majority of the band's run. They split as a couple in 2000, three years after they formed and a full year before the band gained widespread acclaim. Since the band didn't break up until 2011, it's clear that the two worked better as bandmates than as soulmates. During that tenure, the two managed to influence a great body of musicians far outside the Stripes' native Detroit. And lest you think the band was really Jack's brainchild and Meg was just a drummer who got the gig because she was married to the guitarist, keep this in mind: Jack struggled trying to form a band that could attain his vision for years before he and his wife decided to work together. And they only split up because Meg couldn't overcome her crippling stage fright. In the meantime, Jack has played with the Raconteurs and released a solo album, but has yet to achieve the critical and commercial success he experienced with his ex-wife.

So while their romantic tenure was short-lived, their range of influence gives them a spot on the list. And let's be honest, it's sort of romantic that Jack would not only take Meg's last name, but would also keep it after the divorce.

9: Sonny Bono - Cher

Along with lots of campy TV in the '70s, Sonny and Cher made some memorable music together. For a while, they were a virtually unstoppable, hit-making machine. In 1965, the duo had FIVE songs in the Billboard Top 20 at the same time. Though looking at their outfits from the era might make you think otherwise, there was a time when Sonny and Cher could do no wrong.

Despite their success, the only time Sonny and Cher seemed like a perfect match was when they were making hit records. They divorced in 1974, as their fame floundered. Cher went on to craft many more timeless songs and star in quite a few critically acclaimed films, while Sonny started a healthy political career. They would rarely speak of one another during this time, almost as if they were never one of the biggest duos in pop culture history.

Sadly, Sonny died far too early at age 62 during a skiing accident. His death occurred in 1998 and, just a couple years later, Cher began to come clean to the media about the years of their marriage; it seems they weren't all good ones. Cher told Vanity Fair that Sonny was a "terrible husband," and he would often become overly jealous and possessive. While it's always seen as a little tacky to disparage people after it's too late for them to defend themselves, (we're talking to YOU, Mackenzie Phillips!) it's still interesting to note that even all these years later, the story of Cher talking about Sonny was seen as a huge deal. Bigger than her recent chart successes or film work.

In the end, Sonny was still indelibly tied to Cher. And the name "Sonny and Cher" continues to signify more than either of their respective identities. It's all the more interesting considering that whenever they're mentioned, they are usually a subject of comic ridicule. In a Simpsons episode that aired several years before Sonny's death, a soft news story on the television tells of a man who awoke from a twenty-three year coma. He asks whatever became of Sonny and Cher, and anchorman Kent Brockman tells him that "he's a congressman and she won an Oscar." The man immediately falls back into a coma. While they were ridiculed at great length and still are to this day, it's only one more reason why they'll never be forgotten.

10: Chris Stein - Deborah Harry

Anyone old enough to remember when Charlie Sheen was a respected actor and not a parody of himself can also remember a time when Blondie was one of the most interesting and eclectic groups in the New Wave scene. Although it's easy to think of Debbie Harry when we think of Blondie, that would be doing a great disservice to the band's guitarist, Chris Stein.

Debbie and Chris wrote many of Blondie's greatest hits together, including "Heart Of Glass," "Dreaming" and "Rapture." Look elsewhere on this list and you'll see that Chris was not unlike the Gerry Goffin to Debbie's Carole King. But unfortunately, a few years into the band's success, Chris faced a scare.

In 1983, Chris developed a disease known as "pemphigus," a skin condition so horrible that it borders on the biblical: sufferers are forced to watch their skin literally melt as the connective fibers of the flesh break apart. This is the sort of thing that usually only happens to you if you open the Ark of the Covenant. Debbie didn't think twice about what to do: she disbanded the group, still near the peak of its fame, to help him recover. This aspect of the Blondie story is arguably more interesting than anything the group has ever done (aside from the story of Debbie almost being abducted by Ted Bundy).

Sure, they split up in 1989, (Chris and Debbie, not Debbie and Ted) and Chris ended up getting married to another woman. But the duo, along with the rest of Blondie, still maintains a healthy professional relationship – the group released an album in 2011 and plans to keep working. The two made a very lovely couple and still somehow found the time to create some incredibly memorable music.

November 2, 2012
More Song Writing

Comments: 8

  • YiTo previous comments: The Carpenters are brother and sister and not a romantic couple.
  • Alex from CanadaSeriously? No John Lennon/Yoko Ono? Carpenters? Kurt/Courtney?
  • Camille from Toronto, OhI just started reading this article, so I may have more to comment on, however, I came across a big glitch in your Linda McCartney story line: it says she died of liver cancer in, she died from breast cancer in 1998. The paragraph then goes on to say Paul suggested donations be made towards breast cancer research, but come on, that was poorly written.
  • Jacquie from BramptonWhat about the Carpenters
  • Dave from HungaryA great couples in music list should include Richard and Linda Thompson.
  • Billy from Leesburg, GaPat Benatar and Neil Giraldo would make my list
  • Karen from Manchester, NhA few points that I thougth would have been mentioned:

    Johnny and June were SUCH a couple that they died just weeks apart.

    Patti and Bruce started their relationship with her as "the other woman", as Bruce was married.

    Not long before his death, Sonny and Cher sang a bittersweet "I Got You, Babe" on a talk show, seemingly leaving quite a bit of animosity behind them.

    While you mentioned some of Stevie Nicks' relationships, you failed to mention that Lindsey Buckingham has been happily married since 2000, with three children.
  • Jim from North Billerica, MaWith all of the marital and romantic intrigue, I am still amazed that "Rumors" was ever produced. I guess it is a testament to their sheer talent to overcome such an emotional tornado.
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